Key Biscayne will begin the process of attaching dollar signs to the largest capital projects in its history Tuesday, a sea level rise engineering program that is expected to cost as much as $250 million over the next ten to 15 years, officials said.
The steps at Tuesday’s council session? Approving a study that will determine how to protect the bay side of island shoreline, and the selection of the Black & Veatch engineering firm to develop the details of the resiliency projects. Village Manager Steve Williamson says both votes are part of an infrastructure program dubbed “Elevating our island paradise,” designed to counter threats from climate changes and rising risks in the property and insurance markets.
His message was direct. On a 21-page powerpoint for the meeting, the phrase “Not taking action now will magnify these threats and vulnerabilities” is written in bold letters.
“We can’t kill the golden goose,” Williamson said on the Anti-Social program heard on WSQF-FM Friday, noting that many residents just received flood insurance notices from the federal government showing higher premiums. “Banks are going to ask, am I going to give a mortgage to houses or homes?”
The scale of the engineering work would dwarf past Village capital projects. Streets would be ripped up for both new, pressurized storm drainage lines and utility undergrounding. Pumping stations, possibly on expensive land yet to be purchased, would move millions of gallons of treated stormwaters to keep streets clear. Front yards would be altered, streets re-pitched or even raised in some instances. On the coast, there are the twin tasks of beach renourishment on the Atlantic side and shoreline protection on the bay side, projects that would be partially funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The first vote Tuesday is to “ante up” on the federal shoreline project. Williamson said the Army Corps is requiring the Village to pay its share of a “back bay” study to determine the optimal way of protecting the bay side of the island to complement the beach renourishment. The Village would be paying up to $500,000, with Miami-Dade County and the Corps paying the remainder of the study’s $3 million cost.
The second vote, on selecting Black & Veatch, would authorize the administration to negotiate a five-year engineering contract with the global infrastructure firm, based in Overland Park, Kan. Black & Veatch was the top-ranked firm among six companies that submitted bids to become the resilience program manager. The Jacobs and WSP USA firms came in second and third.
Williamson said a $100 million resilience bond measure, passed by voters in 2020, would not be enough to fund all the projects, let alone handle borrowing that might be needed for a number of other community wishes, such as an expanded community center and additional playing fields, and the possibility of a contribution to a redesigned Rickenbacker Causeway — even with additional financing methods such as tapping into state borrowing pools.
The Charter Review Commission is recommending two changes to the Village’s charter to expand borrowing capacity, which is currently capped at one percent of the island’s assessed value. The current cap allows about $73 million of additional debt, officials said.
Voters would be asked to raise the overall cap to 2 percent, and to also allow for an exception to a debt cap if a project were to be approved by a future referendum. The Commission’s report will be presented to the Council Tuesday as well for consideration of placement on the ballot.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.